Sometimes it’s not even about sex. It’s about power or violence or control. Sometimes it’s about drunkenness. Sometimes it’s about procreation. Sometimes it’s just about fun.
It’s lovely when it’s about love and the treasuring of another human being. God created sex to be about love.
But we in the Church have made sex weird. I haven’t read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s new book yet but it’s causing a stir. I don’t particularly aim to cause a stir here.
My hope is that our congregations learn to deal with sex in healthy and open ways. Or that we deal with it at all. I know congregations who have created a culture in which the youth learn about healthy, honorable sex along with healthy, honorable body image and self-respect and respect for other people. They learn about consent along with tips on how to ask somebody out. These are important questions for young disciples trying to discern who they are and who God is.
I know congregations with assault victim support groups and small cadres of women who have connected because they share the horrible history of incest. But I know more churches with victims who don’t dare disclose such things.
Most of us have twisted sex and made it something God didn’t create it to be. In the last two weeks, the media has published stories about:
- Sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church leadership
- Sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Church leadership
- The (not-so-celibate) Roman Catholic priests who have fathered children.
- The sexual abuse of nuns.
- The sexual abuse of deaf children.
- The theological abuse of The Purity Culture. (This one’s in Cosmo so, heads up.)
Every single one of those articles involves church people who have abused their power and/or used sexuality as a weapon. We human beings are quick to idolize what isn’t God. We are a greedy species. We are good at sin.
But we have particularly twisted sexuality. We have made it ugly and it’s no wonder that almost every woman I know has either been sexually assaulted themselves or knows someone else who’s been assaulted.
Imagine a Church that deals with that tragedy and tries to shift the culture in a way that doesn’t shame people or hush people. I was once leading a Children’s Sermon during worship in a church that I was visiting with a group of about twenty children between the ages of three and eight. I have no idea what I was talking about with them, but one preschooler raised her hand and said, “Sometimes my brother puts his penis in my mouth.” Some of the other children laughed. Most didn’t catch it. Some adults up front wondered if they’d heard her correctly.
She was very calm. She was not saying words to make us laugh. She was dead serious. And I said, “Is your mom or dad here today?” A church staff member – who had indeed heard this little girl – mouthed that her grandmother was present. And then I said, “Thank you for telling me. Can you talk with me about that after we finish here?” And she nodded “Yes.”
So here’s the thing: I tell this story not because I handled anything well. (If I did, it was because God put words in my mouth.) My point is that – as the grandmother told me after worship – this preschooler was in therapy after being assaulted by an older brother and she was told by her therapist that she can talk about it anytime she feels safe.
For. The. Love. Of. God. This little girl felt safe in Church. She felt safe with a lady wearing a black robe whom she’d never seen before, but she’d seen other safe humans in black robes in that sanctuary. And she felt safe surrounded by her church friends. And her lovely grandmother had not shamed her at home when she talked about it. And she certainly didn’t shame her for talking about it in church.
Imagine a Church that doesn’t mess up sexuality.
We can be that Church. We really can.
Image of a purity ring. You can read about them here and here. Purity has less to do with virginity than with who we are as God created us to be.
This is wonderful. Thank you.
And so many women are carrying around shame for sex they had decades ago. I talk to lots of birth mothers, because I blog about adoption and about being a birth mother. And way too many women I talk with are terrified their children, their family, their friends would not love them if they knew the truth. It’s heartbreaking. We have to create a church where people can tell their whole story. Thanks for your part in its creation.
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This is wonderful. Thank you, Jan!
A big yes to this, yes imagine, i live in hope.
Thank you Jan!
Wow, Jan. Just wow! Thank you for your eloquence and honesty about the subject of sex.
Thanks for this article!! I’ve written a book you might be interested in called Sex, God, and the Conservative Church – Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy on how the church became Sex negative and how it can return to its sex positive ancient roots. You might be interested so you can join the change!! Feel free to contact me w questions.